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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Examining conflicts, feelings and interactions between collaborators* from opposing sides - as demonstrated in Palestinian- and Arab-Israeli joint ventures

We are basing ourselves on our own experiences with a variety of joint projects in the past 20-25 years. i.e. even before the first peace treaty, that between Israel and Egypt, was signed in 1981. Naturally, after that more joint projects were initiated, and even more after the Oslo accords, and finally the Jordan-Israel peace treaty. Some projects succeeded more, some less, but we believe that most had some measure of success and that, additionally, we can learn equally from failures as from successes. We are also making use of information gleaned from the work of projects carried out by other workers, particularly in recent years, whether directly or through publications. A good part of our knowledge and experience in recent years comes from working through and with the Truman Center for the Advancement of Peace of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Through this Center we have been involved in projects with academic centers in the Jerusalem area and in Gaza. We also used data gleaned in a recent meeting at the Truman Center of teams from Hebrew University who have been engaged in such collaborative projects. The situationWe are dealing here with professional, i.e. intellectual people from two opposing sides, who come together for a joint project. A working relationship is formed because they want to cooperate for the mutual benefit of both the participants and their groups. An additional motivation often, but not always, is to encourage collaboration between these two or more groups. Yet - at the same time they are on opposite sides, are enemies and thus share all the feelings that are engendered at various times about enemies, even though often they will not want to think about that.Unconscious, or less conscious, motivations obviously are often also operative, such as: the wish to prove that the other side is wrong; to justify themselves because of guilt feelings and perhaps to attack the other; or a wish to punish and take revenge, be it more subtly or more blatantly. Political motivations - both conscious and unconscious - can also often be discerned. We believe that projects carried out by participants from two opposing groups are basically similar, i.e. they show many of the same characteristics, of collaboration between any two groups or institutions anywhere. Only here, when political enemies come together for cooperating, the characteristics of such collaboration are more extreme, more marked and therefore more visible. Yet in our view these are basically parallel processes. In other words, we expect here to meet the same problems, the same conscious and unconscious reactions, feelings and conflicts - only more sharply and clearly discernible than the more attenuated way of any collaboration between individuals and groups generally.